HEROES #3, January 1983
by Gary McCullough
Since fifteen years have come and gone since the Archie Comics line of heroes last saw action, the recent announcement that they would soon be re-Introduced may not have generated much enthusiasm. As writer/artist Rich Buckler stated, however, “There’s a whole legacy here to deal with, all the old MLJ heroes from the forties”; hopefully, this article will familiarize readers with this legacy and give them a reason to look forward to THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS.
MLJ The Golden Age of Comics
Of the eight heroes to be revived, five originated during the forties, the first being The Shield in PEP COMICS #1 (January 1940). The creation of Irving Novick (chief artist on DC’s Flash and Batman strips in the· late seventies), The Shield was the first hero to utilize the Stars-and-Stripes In his costume. Timely’s Captain America was not to appear until March 1941, more than a year later.
It was the shield emblem itself that empowered its wearer, Joe Higgins, with super strength, speed, and stamina. Most of the MLJ characters introduced later had no special powers, and The Shield himself was stripped of his extraordinary abilities in PEP#29. In a world at war, It was only natural that the majority of adversaries were enemy agents, spies, and fifth column subversives; MLJ’s creative staff seemingly thought it best to show their heroes overcome our nation’s enemies by use of their own natural strength rather than by artificial means unattainable by the reader.
The Shield’s young sidekick was Dusty, the Boy Detective (introduced in January 1941, again predating Timely’s Bucky). Together, The Shield and Dusty were among the most popular of MLJ’s strips, appearing in the entire 13-issue run of SHIELD-WIZARD COMICS (Summer 1940-Spring, 1944) as well as PEP COMICS through #65 (January 1948), thereby surviving all other MLJ costumed heroes by many months. There was also a Shield G-Man Club open to all readers and dedicated to the American principles of truth, justice, patriotism, and courage.
If The Shield was MLJ’s most popular adventurer, however, The Black Hood was only a half-step behind. The Hood debuted in TOP-NOTCH COMICS #9 (October 1940) and appeared continuously through #44. In addition, MLJ’s “Man of Mystery” was also featured in the 9-issue run of JACKPOT COMICS (Spring, 1941-Summer, 1943), the 11-issue run of his own title (Winter, 1944-Summer, 1946), six scattered issues of PEP, a little-known pulp magazine entitled HOODED DETECTIVE, and on a 15-minute radio program heard weekdays on WOR, New York, in 1943!
The Black Hood was police officer Kip Burland in his civilian identity. Framed for a robbery by a criminal mastermind known only as The Skull, Burland was shot and dumped along a country road while attempting to bring The Skull to justice. Discovered and nursed back to health by the mysterious Hermit, whose life had also been ruined by The Skull years earlier, Burland trained body and mind under the old man’s tutelage. Donning a yellow costume with black trunks, boots, gloves, and the ebony mantle by which he took his name, the Man of Mystery made his pledge to society “I, The Black Hood, do solemnly swear that neither threats nor bribes nor bullets nor death itself shall keep me from fulfilling my sacred vow to erase crime from the face of the earth!” ·
The Skull was eventually captured but returned time and again to challenge The Hood; Burland was exonerated, but his alter ego became a fugitive from the law and this predicament continued throughout most of his career. Newspaperwoman Barbara Sutton (“Bobs”) provided romantic interest and was a convenient damsel in distress whenever needed, while the bumbling, boastful Sgt. McGinty, Burland’s superior, balanced the action with comic relief.
While MLJ gradually phased out its line of costumed heroes and had, in fact, changed its name to Archie Comic Publications, The Hood, like The Shield, hung on as others faded away. In the final issue of his own book, The Hood was forced into revealing his true identity; leaving the force, Burland started The Black Hood Detective Agency and finished the story working in civilian dress. His final Golden Age appearances in Pep’s 59 and 60 also had The Hood working in street clothes. Al Carny handled the early art chores, Novick the latter, with various artists doing occasional stories, most noticeably Al Mclean.
The Comet debuted in the first issue of PEP COMICS. Jack Cole was the creator of this 1940’s character, but Cole left the feature within the year to introduce another Golden Age great – Plastic Man – for a rival company in 1941. The Comet had an optic blast similar to that of Marvel’s Cyclops but also had the ability to fly. The powers were insufficient to save him from a gunman’s bullet, and in PEP #17 (July 1941) John Dickering – The Comet – dies. (Anyone who has a copy of the recent CHARLTON BULLSEYE #10 might want to check out the splash page again.)
Fortunately, John’s brother Bob swore to continue the fight against crime, and so was born The Hangman. Dickering, like The Bat-Man, chose an identity that would strike terror in the hearts of criminals everywhere; an unexplained, supernatural shadow of the gallows which appeared whenever The Hangman cornered his prey certainly helped in the terror department.
Cliff Campbell, who teamed with Camy on The Hood’s origin tale, was also The Hangman’s first illustrator. Later artists included Lucey and Novick, but it was Bob Fuji who seemed best able to give the strip the dark, brutal atmosphere that distinguished The Hangman’s stories from those of his fellow adventurers.
Garbed in green and blue with a flowing blue cloak, The Hangman took a less active role In bringing criminals to justice than did the other MLJ heroes; instead, villains often brought about their own undoing, and the artists and writers found a variety of imaginative ways for ne’er-do-wells to literally hang themselves.
After his introduction, The Hangman continued through PEP #47 (March 1944) and was the first MLJ hero to be given his own magazine. January 1942 saw SPECIAL COMICS #1 hit the stands; the title changed. to HANGMAN COMICS with #2, and the quarterly magazine had an 8-issue run through Fall 1943 before the book was given over to the exploits of The Black Hood with #9.
Of the five Golden Age characters to be revived, the last to be introduced and the first to depart was The Web, his career spanning a mere 12-issue run, from ZIP COMICS #27 to #38 (June 1942 to July 1943). Like The Hangman, The Web owed his origin to his brother, but for a much different reason: John Raymond’s brother was a criminal, and so John took it upon himself to balance his sibling’s actions against society by becoming its defender. A professor of criminology, Raymond chose the guise of The· Web, an identity symbolic of the way in. which villains trap themselves in their own web of evil. His green and-yellow costume with a green cape looking itself like a huge web was one of the most original and dramatic of the period.
MLJ eased out of the costumed adventure field by replacing its heroes with zany characters no less fanciful, but presumably more identifiable with the average reader. Archie Andrews first appeared in PEP COMICS #22 (December 1941) and he’s never left it since early stories introduced Betty Cooper, Veronica Lodge, Jughead, and the other members of the cast. ZIP COMICS featured Archie’s counterpart, Wilbur and a new fashion-plate named Katy Keene, created by Bill Waggon, while in TOP-NOTCH, the new attraction was a dizzy blonde called Suzie. Thus, when many publishers closed shop in the years following World War II, Archie Comics as going strong, its costumed adventurers simply set aside. Until 1959.
ARCHIE ADVENTURE SERIES
The Silver Age
After an absence of more than a decade, The Shield returned to action, although he bore little resemblance to his Golden Age predecessor. Just as DC’s Flash had been dramatically updated for his Silver Age debut in SHOWCASE #4, so, too, was this version of The Shield. The men responsible for the new adaptation were veterans Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, and they unveiled the new Archie Adventure Series with THE DOUBLE LIFE OF PRIVATE STRONG.
The hero gained his abilities be cause of experiments conducted upon him as a boy his scientist father which allowed him to fully utilize “the latent powers inside the unused portion of the brain.”When third world spies caused his father’s death (the truck in which he and his son were escaping ran off a cliff), the boy crawled off into the woods, where he was found and adopted by Abel and Martha Strong, who name him Lancelot.
Years pass and an alien threat coincided with Lancelot’s chance discovery of his father’s secrets inside the wreckage of the truck, not the .least of which was a star spangled uniform that fit Lancelot (surprise) as if it had been intended for him. Defeating the alien invader, Lancelot naturally became a private in the Army (after Captain America and Fighting American, what else could be expected from Simon and Kirby?). The heroics of this Shield were few in number, however, as the book ran only two issues, June and August 1959.
Another, original Simon and Kirby creation, The Fly, was waiting in the wings and PRIVATE STRONG #1 featured a 2-page house ad for the new sensation. ADVENTURES OF THE FLY was released ln August 1959 and explained how a young orphan named Tommy Troy discovered a strange ring in a secret attic room in the home of his foster parents (who were thought by the townspeople to dabble in the arcane arts). Putting on the ring, Tommy summoned Turon, an emissary of the Fly world, who bestowed upon the lad the magicalabili1y to become the winged crusader whenever necessary. The transformation changed Tommy to a full sized adult (Shazam!) replete with wings and a green-and-yellow costume. Tremendous strength and the abilities to cling to any surface and see in all directions were also his, along with a buzz gun which could temporarily paralyze any opponent.
Simon and Kirby left the book after four issues, and when FLY #5 came out two months later, the book had not only a new creative team but a new direction as well. Tommy Troy, orphan, was suddenly Thomas Troy, attorney-at-law; The Fly, it was explained, had been in retirement for nine years. The ability to duplicate the natural actions of any insect (in amounts magnified tremendously due to his greater size) was added, so that The Fly could now radiate light like a million fireflies, beat his wings to produce ear-splitting noise, spin a protective cocoon, dig through the earth, and so on. Still later, the winged wonder could communicate telepathically with any variety of insect virtually anywhere in this or any other world. F-a-r out!
Two things occurred with ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #7. First, yours truly stopped reading comics as an occasional rainy day pastime and began what will undoubtedly be a life-long hobby of collecting. Second, and of far more interest to everyone else, The Black Hood returned, nearly twenty years after his first appearance in TOP-NOTCH COMICS. Unlike the changes made with The Shield’s character, The Black Hood was basically the same as he had been in the forties, except the trunks, boots, and gloves were changed from black to red, and his civilian identity as Kip Burland was still a secret. Unlike DC, which decided to have Golden and Silver Age characters co-exist On parallel worlds, no such attempt was made at this time to explain The Hood’s presence. In fact, the story unfolds as though the character was already known to the reader, although The Hood had not seen action in fourteen years.
The team-up of The Fly and The Black Hood was the first time in their careers that either hero joined forces with another crimefighter. The event was repeated in FLY #8 and 9, when The Fly teamed up with the Simon and Kirby version of The Shield, while The Hood returned in #10, June 1960. Neither guest star would appear again until 1965; The Fly, however, continued bimonthly through #29, January 1964, with art chores handled principally by the late John Rosenberger. In #13, the character of starlet Kim Brand was introduced; in the following issue, when The Fly was confronted by two disasters simultaneously, Turon gave Kim the power to become Fly-Girl and help her male counterpart solve the dual crisis.
The same month Fly-Girl earned her wings (September 1961) saw the Archie Adventure Series add a companion magazine, ADVENTURES OF THE JAGUAR. The book was drawn by Rosenberger, and the hero’s origin and powers were about as original as the title: zoologist Ralph Hardy, traveling in the Peruvian jungle, discovered a belt in the ruins of an Incan temple which transformed him into The Jaguar, master over all animals, etc. The book had a 15-issue run, ending September 1963.
Throughout 1962, The Fly, Fly-Girl, and The Jaguar alternately appeared in solo stories In PEP COMICS #150 -160 and LAUGH COMICS #127-144.
After a 10-month wait, ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #30 was released in October 1964, and is noteworthy because it re-Introduced – The Comet – In this 5-pager, however, The Comet hailed from the planet Altrox, where all people have superpowers, and he had journeyed to earth to marry Fly-Girl, with whom he had fallen In love while monitoring our world via space monitor. Passion died quickly when Fly-Girl, suspecting her admirer might be a villain in disguise, con ducted a few hasty, rather painful, tests. The Comet headed back to Altrox alone.
Following a delay of seven months, both the title and the principal character of the book changed named to FLY-MAN with #31; it also saw the first appearance of The Mighty Crusaders. First to arrive was The Comet, newly returned from Altrox and sporting a green-and orange costume instead of the red and-white outfit of the previous Issue; next, the original Shield returned, followed shortly by The Black Hood (blue cape and robot horse Nightmare added). Each hero helped Fly-Man individually before the four banded together to defeat The Fly’s old nemesis, Spider. Joined by Fly-Girl, these heroes officially formed The Mighty Crusaders two issues later, when MLJ greats The Wizard and The Hangman were re-introduced, this time as villains (although the latter eventually reformed and once again fought for justice). The team was given its own book In November 1965, which had a 7-issue run.
Of these, the most significant issue was MIGHTY CRUSADERS #4, in wh.ich writer Jerry Siegel (co creator of the legendary Super man) and Paul Reinman (a penciller for MLJ in the forties) brought together in one story every hero who had ever appeared in an MLJ/Archie title, thirty-three in all! Following this historic issue, FLY·MAN was changed to MIGHTY COMICS PRESENTS. with #40, and thereafter the book showcased solo adventures of. many of the revived heroes until its cancellation with #50 (October 1967).
Brief origin tales in various issues explained how the Golden Age heroes had made it to the sixties. The Black Hood, for example, had been tricked into taking a serum which rendered him intangible, a state in which he remained until he gambled that a machine designed to test metal alloys would return him to normal (FLY·MAN #35). The Shield was, in reality, the son of Joe Higgins, the original star-spangled crusader, who had been turned to stone by the villainous Eraser (MIGHTY CRUSADERS #1).
In recalling The Web to action, Siegel decided it would be fun to see how well a middle-aged ex-adventurer would fare back in costume again. Instead of inventing some means by which the hero might still be young, the author simply had Raymond don his suit when some brash youth began a career of crime and disguised himself as The Web to gain notoriety (FLY·MAN #36). His wife Rose, at tracked to Raymond in the forties because of his daring exploits as The Web, now criticized him for his foolishness. This was a novel approach at the time, although it was done better by Paul Levitz when writing the new adventures of The Justice Society in the mid-seventies.
Only The Comet’s origin was in compatible with the history of the original character. In the Siegel/Reinman story, John Dickering did
not die, but was whisked away by the citizens of Altrox so that he could aid them in their war with invaders; marrying the local princess, here remained until his wife’s death, after which he returned to Earth with different powers and costume to begin life anew (MIGHTY CRUSADERS #2).
RED CIRCLE COMICS
The Future With the cancellation of MIGHTY COMICS PRESENTS in 1967, the MLJ Archie/Mighty Comics heroes were gone from the scene once again, save for an ill-fated attempt by Red Circle Comics to bring back The Black Hood in 1974. The magazine was advertised in RED CIRCLE SORCERY and was even listed in THE COMICBOOK PRICE GUIDE, but the book was never printed. Instead, the stories intended for the premiere issue ended up being published in ARCHIE’S SUPERHERO COMICS DIGEST #2 (1979).
The hero of these stories was a completely different character from the original Hood, retaining only his civilian identity as Kip Burland, detective. In this origin, written and drawn by Gray Morrow, Burland learned from his uncle that The Black Hood was actually a sort of family tradition, with various males of the Burland stock having assumed the fabled ebony mantel whenever injustice demanded. Naturally, Kip follows suit, the suit, in this case, being no more than a mask, black leather jacket, holster, and gun. Two Hood stories in the digest were drawn by Al McWilliams, and still, another was drawn by Neal Adams! (Adams’ story can be found in reprint form in JC Comics Group’s T..H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #1, released January 1982, along with a reprint of the 2-page featurette which introduced The Fly back in 1960.)
Thanks for reading and I hope the above information will help you enjoy THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS and the other Archie/Red Circle heroes.